Lifeline ferries being built in Turkey as part of a £115m contract are expected to be completed in a third of the time it is due to take a Scots yard to deliver.

The two ferries being built in Turkey are due to serve the communities of Harris and North Uist which have suffered disruption to services due to the ageing CalMac fleet.

State-controlled ferry owners Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) said that the ferries, which were expected to be delivered by 2026,  have now met key milestones.

The keel was laid for the first vessel, while the first steel was cut for its sister ship.

The Little Minch ferries, which are being built at Cemre Marin Endustri shipyard in Turkey, are expected to be delivered in June and October 2025. The contracts were signed on the ferry contract in February, 2023.

Two long-delayed and over-budget lifeline ferries due to be delivered by nationalised Inverclyde shipyard firm Ferguson Marine are not expected to be ready until between the summer and end of next year - nine years after the contract was signed on the project.

The new 94.8-metre vehicle and passenger ferries from Turkey will be designed and built to the same specification as the two new vessels for Islay, and will replace the one vessel that currently covers the two Little Minch routes, Uig to Lochmaddy and Uig to Tarbert.

CMAL said that the public will be invited to vote on the name of both ships later in the year.

READ MORE: Legal issues may stand in way of plan to scrap ferry owners CMAL

They say that with capacity for up to 450 passengers and 100 cars, or 14 commercial vehicles, the new vessels will provide "increased vehicle and freight capacity on the Little Minch routes, whilst enhancing the overall resilience of the wider fleet".

The Herald:  CMAL's site supervisor at Cemre presses the button to cut the first steel

Ferguson Marine which is still struggling to deliver two delayed vessels did not even bid for the work.

The Scottish Government agency had previously confirmed that the new ferries will be built to the same specification as those which are already being designed and built in Turkey for Islay.

They said it would “speed up” the replacement of the major vessel fleet and provide a more standardised vessel type that can be used on a variety of different routes, “providing potential economies of scale and enhanced public value”.

Industry insiders told the Herald this gave the Turkish yard, which had already won a contract to provide two ferries for Islay a "strong competitive advantage" having produced the blueprint through the Islay tender process.

It emerged that that was one of the reasons that the state-owned shipyard firm did not even try to bid for the work.

Ferguson Marine had failed to get past the first Pre Qualification Questionnaire hurdle in the Islay ferries contract.

Ferguson Marine conducted a detailed analysis of bidding for the contract but concluded that, based on the associated documents published, the probability of winning the contract was "sufficiently low to recommend declining to bid".

Kevin Hobbs, chief executive of CMAL said: “The build programme at Cemre is progressing well, and meeting these key milestones is another significant step forward for the project.

“Laying the keel for the first ferry to operate on the Little Minch routes means that other units can now be fabricated and assembled, while the steel cutting for the second ship marks the transition from drawings to creating the physical ship with steel.

“The vessels will bring much needed resilience to the fleet, and provide a better, faster and cleaner service for passengers to enjoy.”

It is already known that the four vessels currently under construction in Turkey will replace 40-year-old MV Isle of Arran, 38-year-old Mv Hebridean Isles and 34-year-old MV Lord of the Isles.

Transport minister Fiona Hyslop said: “I welcome this important milestone for both Little Minch vessels, as it moves us closer to having them join the fleet to bring welcome additional capacity, reliability, and resilience for our island communities.

CMAL said that the two Little Minch vessels are two of six new major vessels set to join the CalMac ferry fleet by the end of 2025. They say the other four will be Islay vessels MV Isle of Islay and MV Loch Indaal being built in Turkey and Arran vessels MV Glen Sannox and MV Glen Rosa being completed in Scotland.

The Herald:

CalMac had expected Glen Sannox being built by Ferguson Marine to be handed over in December 2023, and Glen Rosa in December 2024. They say that once handed over there will be a two month period where there will be crew familiarisation and network trials.

But issues to be resolved include the installation of additional staircases on Glen Sannox and Hull 802, now named Glen Rosa in order to satisfy the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which is responsible for implementing British and international maritime law and safety policy are further delaying the project.

It raised fears over not just whether Glen Sannox will be available for the start of the 2024 summer season - but whether it will be passed fit to sail at all.

The delayed second vessel, Glen Rosa which which was supposed to be online in the last reschedule in the autumn of 2024 having already been delayed to the end of March 2024, has been pushed back to November, 2024. The contract backstop was stated as being at the end of December 2024.

Both vessels were due online in the first half of 2018, with one initially to serve Arran and the other to serve the Skye triangle routes to North Uist and Harris, but are at least five years late, with costs expected to be quadruple the original £97m contract. It has been confirmed that both are now to serve Arran.